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Photo hack: make your own reflector with tin foil & cardboard!

Photo hack: make your own reflector with tin foil & cardboard!
(Image credit: N-Photo Magazine)

Reflectors are used by photographers to bounce light back into a subject to lift dark shadows or accentuate shape and tone. They’re great for shooting in bright sunlight to bounce light back into faces, and are equally useful in the studio, placed opposite your ‘key’ light to lighten up shadows while still giving subjects a three-dimensional look. With a window and a reflector, in fact, you have a great home studio set-up for photographing members of your household.

Store-bought reflectors for photography come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from white, gold, silver and even striped (gold and silver). But simply put, all they do is reflect light, so anything that is shiny enough can be used as a reflector. So it is really easy to make your own.

Left: without the reflector, the girl's face is mostly in shadow which flattens the facial features. Right: with the reflector, light is bounced back into the face creating more definition in the features and adding a sparkling catchlight to the eyes.  (Image credit: N-Photo Magazine)

We made our reflector by taping aluminum foil onto a large sheet of cardboard, for  a powerful reflection with a silvery light, but an even simpler option is a piece of blank, white card. 

Hold it at the opposite side to the light source in relation to your subject, and the light will bounce back in to illuminate it. You will see the effect as you gently reposition the reflector, but take care not to blind your model if the sun is shining! 

(Image credit: N-Photo Magazine)

1. What you need

You don’t need much to make a cheap, fully-functional light reflector. You need a piece of cardboard, ideally the same sort of size (or bigger) than the subject you are shooting. So for a head-and-shoulders portrait a piece three foot (one metre) piece of cardboard is ideal. 

(Image credit: N-Photo Magazine)

2. Making your DIY reflector

You now need aluminum foil and tape. Run the foil over the edge of the cardboard and tape. Take care not to  wrinkle the foil as you tape it on or you’ll end up with ‘hot spots’ of brighter areas on your reflector.

(Image credit: N-Photo Magazine)

3. Using your DIY reflector

Position the model with the sun behind them and bounce in the sunlight with your DIY reflector. On bright days subtly feather in the edge of the reflected light to avoid blinding your model.

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Adam Waring

Editor of N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine, Adam is Digital Camera World's man in the know for all things Nikon-related. A veteran of publications such as PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge and photographic technique to DCW. Often found playing with the latest kit from the Big N, his personal set-up is built around the formidable Nikon D850.